Analysts could see a gas station, and then a bright glow, and then the drone crashed.
Last week, on the outskirts of Donbas, a Ukrainian non governmental organization flew a drone near the front lines, and encountered what appears to be a new counter-drone system.
The report comes to us from the Minsk Monitor, which writes:As the NGO described, they noticed a flickering light (possibly an infrared emission) from what they suspect is an electronic warfare system. Soon after this happened, the drone was rendered temporarily inoperable. It was difficult to identify any specific system, as this suspected weapon does not look like other Russian electronic warfare complexes found in the Donbas, such as the Leer-3 featured in a separate @DFRLab investigation.
Last month, the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard released a comprehensive survey of counter-drone systems. That survey, which looked at 235 different counter-drone products, found everything from birds to machine guns sold as ways to knock a drone out of the sky.
Again, from the Minsk Monitor:We reached out to Arthur Holland Michel at Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone to assess what type of system could have been filmed by the Ukrainian NGO. From the Center’s database of counter-drone systems, Michel did not recognize any of the products in the database. He noted that if a laser was actually being used, there would have been physical damage to the drone. Additionally, there are no counter-drone systems in the database that would create the light seen in the video.
It doesn’t appear that the drone was hit by a projectile or laser in its descent (though evidence of such would certainly change this analysis). Barring a physical projectile, the known non-kinetic methods for stopping a drone are threefold: radio frequency (RF) jamming, global navigation satellite system (GNSS) jamming, and spoofing. With RF jamming, the link between the drone and its operator is severed, usually causing the drone to descend or return to home. With GNSS, the drone’s link to satellite navigation is lost, and the drone then usually hovers in place, lands, or returns home. With spoofing, the attacker feeds the drone new information to take control of its flight.
None of these methods require any bright flashing lights, which could easily be a cosmetic feature of the counter-drone system. Given the drone’s sudden spiraling descent in the released video, it’s likeliest that the system featured is a radio-frequency jammer. It is also likely, given the system’s employment on the side of the Russian-backed separatists, that the system is another Russian-made electronic warfare weapon, fielded on the front lines of a proxy war as much for battlefield impact as it is for research and test purposes.